The last time the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans met it was opening night at the Moda Center, the Pelicans were hobbled, CJ McCollum had a coming-out party to the tune of a career-high 37 points and the home team cruised to a 112-94 victory.
While the result was the same, it would not come in quite the same fashion, as Portland grinded out a turnover-riddled battle to walk away with a win at home before setting out on a yet another extended road trip.
The Blazers were led by Mason Plumlee's near triple-double (15 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists), Damian Lillard (30 points) and Gerald Henderson (19 points). The Pelicans were led by Anthony Davis (28 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Tyreke Evans (19 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists).
Davis was a seismic force from the opening whistle - on the Blazers' first possession, Noah Vonleh had his baby-hook swatted right back to him by the seemingly elastic forward and from that point onward few dared to challenge his presence. Portland hesitantly meandered through the paint, looking over its shoulders with Davis looming over them like a hawk (or Pelican) searching for its prey.
With the interior all but closed for business, the Blazers would again have to rely on its outside shooting, and luckily it would be enough to bail them out of what could have been a much larger deficit, as Jrue Holiday came off the bench contributing eight quick points to give the Pelicans an early advantage.
CJ McCollum buried back-to-back threes and Lillard connected on one of his own late in the period to keep Portland afloat.
End of First: Portland 26, New Orleans 31
The defensive gameplan for New Orleans was clearly to put pressure out on the perimeter and force the Blazer guards to drive to the rack - when you've got a guy like Davis, that's not such a bad strategy. Holiday in particular was right in Lillard's pocket, and really made him work for everything on the court all night.
Allen Crabbe had his own share of troubles, going ice cold and missing all six of his shot attempts in the first half. Instead, Henderson had the hot hand off he bench, knocking down two threes to go along with nine much needed points as both teams struggled to score from the field for significant stretches.
After see-sawing most of the quarter, Plumlee finally broke the tie, flying in to snatch Al-Farouq Aminu's missed transition layup and throw down a putback dunk which put Portland ahead 45-43.
Eric Gordon's free throws looked to tie the score heading into the locker room, but Ed Davis beat all of New Orleans down the court to throw down a nice go-ahead slam with two seconds to go.
Halftime: Portland 50, New Orleans 48
The Blazers found its answer to attacking the paint in the third quarter, and it was Mason Plumlee.
With Lillard hounded, McCollum emerged as the de facto playmaker for much of the period - and he was superb - playing decoy to draw the Pelicans' attention, Plumlee was left completely ignored. After notching zero assists in the first half, McCollum tallied his third on a crafty alley-oop lob to Plumlee, in which he floated the ball over the outstretched arm of Davis.
The dunk started a 11-0 Portland run, capped by Lillard's baseline fadeaway which gave the Blazers a 12-point lead at 68-56.
After beginning the quarter with three straight baskets, Davis inexplicably didn't touch the ball for much of the run, as New Orleans was content to gun away early in the shot clock; a longstanding issue with club failing to utilize its franchise player.
End of Third: Portland 78, New Orleans 69
It was more of the Henderson show down the stretch, as the Duke product scored Portland's first three baskets and seven points of final frame. The Pelicans refused to go away and continued to play tight defense as the Blazer lead kept getting chipped away.
Norris Cole nailed back-to-back threes to pull New Orleans within five at 87-82.
The Blazers battled back - Crabbe finally connected on his first two jumpers of the night and Plumlee continued a very strong effort on both ends of the court, playing sound defense on Davis and going strong for offensive boards. He had his stamp just about everywhere Monday.
New Orleans would still not lay down - after Portland looked like it might have just put the game out of reach off of Lillard's back-to-back jumpers to push the score to 97-94, the Pelicans in a flash scored eight-straight to get right back in it.
Tyreke Evans converted a three-point play with 90 seconds remaining to pull within four 99-95, and then after a controversial offensive foul call on Plumlee, New Orleans had a chance to cut it to just a one possession lead.
McCollum, however, had other plans, and secured perhaps the play of the game - slapping the ball out of Holiday's hands as he rose up for a potentially gut-wrenching three. The ball ended up in McCollum's hands and free throws iced the contest.
The Blazers get out of Dodge with a nice win.
The home stand was short-lived as Portland now embarks on a grueling 8-day, five-game road trip, starting with the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday at 5 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
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